44 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1842

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Important Quotes

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“The ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had been ever so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleedings at the pores, with dissolution.” 

(Page 739)

The first words of Poe’s story describe the symptoms of the Red Death. Placing the disease in quotes, Poe signals its mystery—this is not tuberculosis or bubonic plague, both diseases known in Poe’s time, but a new, mysterious force. Poe highlights the horror of the disease’s effects using a mix of scientific and highly poetic language; note the combination of a description of symptoms (“sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleedings at the pores”) with the poetic effects of polyptoton (word repetition) and metaphor: “Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood.”

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“The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.” 

(Page 739)

Immediately after the previous quotation, Poe transitions from describing the specific symptoms of the disease to the stages of witnessing the disease afflict others. Poe uses this description to initiate some of the most important themes of his story. Noting that the signs of this plague ensure that all infected are cast out of society, Poe foreshadows the exclusivity of Prospero’s party. In describing the time the disease takes to kill, Poe highlights the lack of time left for everyone involved in the tale. Finally, in showing that the disease affects not only on its victims but also those who simply see it, Poe suggests it complete pervasiveness, which is brought about fully in the story’s final words.